Heston delivers 'shot in the arm' for Giants

Rookie beats D-backs with six strong innings, could start home opener

Heston delivers 'shot in the arm' for Giants

PHOENIX -- Credit Chris Heston with a win and a save. He not only received the decision in the Giants' 5-2 victory Wednesday over the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he also saved the ballclub's sanity after the pitching staff endured a stressful, injury-filled week.

Praise for Heston rang from manager Bruce Bochy's office and echoed throughout Chase Field's visitors' clubhouse after the Giants sealed their second victory in the three-game, season-opening series. Bochy and players alike called Heston's performance "a shot in the arm," and though that was a well-worn cliche, it fit under the circumstances.

Replacing Matt Cain, who's on the disabled list with a strained flexor tendon in his throwing arm, Heston delivered a performance that assured him of staying in the starting rotation. The rookie right-hander allowed a pair of unearned runs and three hits in six innings to secure his first Major League victory while allaying fears of the void left by Cain's absence.

"I think that's the game plan for me here -- whatever I can do to help," said Heston, who turns 27 on Friday.

Heston looked like a big league novice when he hit Arizona's A.J. Pollock in the back with his second pitch of the game, then flung an errant pickoff throw to allow Pollock to advance to third.

"He was a bit amped up," Bochy said.

But Heston proceeded to retire the next 10 batters. He then demonstrated his toughness and guile, mixing his pitches after he left the bases loaded in the fourth inning and marooned a runner on third base in the fifth.

"I'm just on cloud nine right now, ecstatic that I was able to come in here and help," Heston said.

Heston commanded attention in 2012 when he led the Eastern League with a 2.24 ERA for Double-A Richmond. But the following year he recorded a 5.80 ERA in 19 starts at Triple-A and actually was designated for assignment to clear 40-man roster room for outfielder Jeff Francoeur.

Heston cleared waivers and, since then, regained the sinking fastball that initially stamped him as a prospect.

Said catcher Hector Sanchez, "When I saw him at the beginning of Spring Training, I said, 'Wow.'"

Heston used that sinker to coax nine ground-ball outs from the D-backs. He also displayed an effective curveball and changeup, using the latter pitch to strike out cleanup hitter David Peralta after Paul Goldschmidt doubled to open Arizona's sixth inning.

Heston impressed D-backs manager Chip Hale as much as his own coaches and teammates.

"He's got a good sinker, and anybody that has a sinker has a chance," Hale said. "That's why we like sinkerball pitchers. They are hard to find."

Heston won't be hard to find next Monday when the Giants face Colorado in their home opener. He'll be the center of attention at AT&T Park, since he'll be San Francisco's scheduled starter barring further changes to the rotation.

"We need him right now," Bochy said, indicating Heston will indeed receive that assignment.

"That's exciting if I get the opportunity," Heston said. "I'll try to make the best out of it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.